By Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.
The ritual for ordaining a priest in the Catholic Church is a ceremony rich in symbolism. Most people seem to be drawn to two elements: the dramatic gesture of the Litany of the Saints being sung as the ordinand lies prostrate before the altar, and the moment following when the ordaining bishop and all the other attending priests prayerfully lay hands on the head of the person being ordained, and with that the solemn prayer of consecration. The sight of the ordinand lying on the floor before the altar while the gathered assembly invokes the saints and heavenly powers is certainly a powerful moment in the ritual.
But it is the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration that is the core of the sacramental action; everything else leads up to it and flows from it. I never fail to be moved by this simple ritual, the more so as I know the man being ordained. But one ordination stands out and has influenced me ever since.
Jim was a student at a Norbertine high school, a hockey player. He attended college out East. While he was a good man, a little on the wild side, we wouldn’t have pegged him for the priesthood. But as a college senior Jim had a profound conversion experience. After college he joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. We were friends from high school through college and his religious formation. So on May 27, 2000, I found myself participating in his priestly ordination in Baltimore.
… it is the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration that is the core of the sacramental action …
—Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.
Perhaps because Jim’s ordination was my first outside the Norbertine community, I was more aware of what I was doing. It was a transcendent moment. I was deeply conscious this was not simply about the priesthood we all shared, but that in my heart it also represented the nearly 900-year tradition of Norbertine priesthood.
Well, a priest is a priest is a priest … right?
Yes—and no. There is a distinctive quality to this particular tradition that is challenging to put into words. It is a nuance, a Spirit, perhaps a particular way of exercising the priesthood of Christ that we all share.
Just as the whole Church, the Body of Christ, is a Royal Priesthood, so each Norbertine community is a priestly community. This embraces lay members, brothers (and sisters), as well as ordained members. The community as community offers a priestly service in the “sacrifice of praise” of the Liturgy of the Hours and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, as well as the ministry of service to the local Church and to the world around us. The service of Norbertine priests, flowing from this priestly community, is a corporate ministry. We are not “lone rangers,” even when we find ourselves “alone” in a parish or classroom or other setting. We act—certainly in the name of Jesus—but also in the name and with the support of the entire brotherhood.
So in laying hands prayerfully on the head of Michael Brennan, O. Praem., on May 27, we not only pass on through Bishop David Ricken the ministry of Christ—our true and only Priest—but we also share with Michael the unique gift and orientation of this particular priestly community.